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Flash Review 1, 2-4: Without and Within
Corpus Jones, and Dancers

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company opened a brief New York run with three premieres at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday, hosted by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The program hinged on live performances by CMSLC and the Orion String Quartet, who were situated for the most part on a platform in front of the apron, or on a corner of the stage. In one ambitious, if flawed experiment, "WorldWithout/In," the musicians moved about the stage set, more obstructing the flow of the movement than adding to it. And Jones's choreography feels so designed for his own body and subtle movement (the man evokes oohs and aahhs by blinking, for God's sake), and bereft of a common dance language, that some dancers with good technique sometimes appear to struggle with the colloquial style.

There was plenty of good news, however. The program opened with "Verbum," to Beethoven's Quartet for Strings in F major, Op. 135 performed by Orion, with a sculptural set by Bjorn Amelan which resembled three disintegrating smoke rings. It featured a solo by the dynamic Toshiko Oiwa, who has managed to digest Jones's style smoothly while expressing her own cultivated technique. Oiwa initiated movement with a hip circle, for example, as many phrases by Jones begin, letting the movement shudder through her extremities; passed through shuffling tendus; made isolated arm and hand gestures evoking mime, hip-hop, and other club dancing; exploded into sharp, clean kicks and developpes, and then luxuriated in a moment of complete stillness. The eight dancers, performing solo, in pairs and groups, came together in a 'V,' did grand plies in first as their hands parted up and down, and walked their fingers across their pates and down their other arms.

"WorldWithout/In" was set to a composition by Gyorgy Kurtag. Jones had too many ideas going into the creative process for this. Structurally, it might have been enough for the musicians to interact with the dancers. But what dominated were the set pieces forming an iconography that spoke to me of the World Trade Center atttacks and aftermath: risers where people would enter and leave silently, two white runners lying across the stage, memorials with flowers and incense, money forming a useless umbrella or scattered about the stage as meaningless litter only to be quickly swept away, burkas, a masked strongman, a nightmarish, greedy dwarf, and many others. With all that stuff onstage, there was not much room for movement, literally or figuratively. The CMSLC musicians wandered awkwardly on and offstage, grouping together behind music stands, then moving across the stage or up the risers for memorized sections. (This points up a recurring difference between music and dance, the acceptability of using sheet music in most concert performances, with no such option in dance.) It was a big, chaotic mess, loaded with heavy-handed symbolism.

An excerpt of "Quartet for Strings in F major," performed by Eric Bradley to music by Ravel, seemed placed third on the bill only to provide an acceptable, long alternate to a third intermission. During the interval, the dancers laid down the interlocking, rubber squares that formed the performance area for the third premiere, "Black Suzanne." Bradley, performing in dim lighting in contrast to the brightly spotlit Orion Quartet downstage, windmilled his arms and shifted his weight from side to side, stirring his pelvis. He seemed to be imitating, stiltedly, the way Jones moves naturally. The contained movement and dark atmosphere suggested loss and grieving.

"Black Suzanne" was danced to Shostakovich's Prelude and Scherzo for String octet, Op. 11, played by both the CMSLC and Orion quartets. The eight dancers finally seemed freed from an obligation to perform movement that Jones would be comfortable doing, and their actions gained in power and momentum. With padded signal-red leotards to match the rubber matting and a big grinning sunflower painted on the backdrop, two teams of four leaned on one another like rugby scrums, and two of the women walked suspended in the other dancers interlaced hands, as if on water. The work was playful and vibrant, life-affirming, in contrast to the elegiac tone of the other pieces.

In addition to those mentioned above, the concert also featured dancers Germaul Yusef Barne, Denis Boroditski, Asli Bulbul, Catherine Cabeen, Leah Cox, Ayo Janeen Jackson, Daniel Russell Kubert, Wen-Chung Lin, and Malcolm Low. Musicians were Ruggero Allifranchini, Timothy Eddy, Timothy Fain, Hsin-Yun Huang, Daniel Phillips, Todd Phillips, Sophie Shao, and Steven Tenenbom. Bjorn Amelan designed all sets, Liz Prince the costumes, and Robert Wierzel lighting.

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